Saturday, July 22, 2006

Living with the enemy

I'm beginning to think that work stress is nothing to do with the actual work, and instead the result of spending eight or more hours a day in the company of people you can't stand. That's more time than I ever spent on average per day with my wife or partners, or even my daughter.

I keep my head down in the trenches these days, instead of succumbing to my instinct to go over the top with guns blazing. The last great battle resulted in a page editor fleeing the office in tears, a savage stand-up row with the chief sub, disciplinary charges, legal appeals and permanent no-speaks with the deputy editor.

There are several really annoying people in my office. The aforementioned chief sub is gratingly shrill under pressure, admits she has no life outside the office and really seems not to relate to other people or have any idea that they might have feelings of their own. Feelings are not her bag. My approach now is, to hell with it.

But an inexorable drip-drip of stress remains. Administered by a woman with whom I used to have regular bouts of snarling hand-to-hand fighting. Having inflicted a provocation or started an argument, her tactic was to keep up a rapid-fire defence of her position. Any attempt to respond was met with a loud "Let me finish!" So one could either insist on interrupting the flow or just take the medicine.

This year, a strange transformation took place. She started breezing in to work, greeting each colleague by name, inquiring as to their welfare, personal lives and tribulations (as a compulsive nosy parker with a line to the management). But it was obvious to me and everyone else that the insistent bonhomie was entirely insincere. Who whistles while they work, for God's sake? I find myself gritting my teeth as she inquires about my weekend or my health -- and the reason is that I know she doesn't care and dislikes me intensely. At first I assumed she was on some powerful mood drug or anti-depressant. But her approach reminded me of something: the techniques described in How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, the bible of Rotarians everywhere. Anyone who has read that know that it is a paean to insincerity, indeed falsity, from start to finish.

I think it's time I read Sun Tzu's Art of War.

PS: in case anyone thinks I have a problem working with women, it's simply a numerical disparity. My fellow senior colleagues are almost all women. And I enjoy professional relationships based on mutual respect with most of the others.


Blogger First Nations said...

my #1 best job was working in a nursery display garden. me buried in flowers all day with bumblebees landing on the brim of my hat to rest; hell yeah.
my 2nd best was spent on a ladder chipping paint, applying paint, limbing back trees and cleaning gutters at a beautiful small resort on Mt. Baker. nobody but me and the deer and the squirrels and the nice breeze. it was heaven. i hated to come down at the end of the day. office work SUCKS.
so guess what i have (most of) a degree in?

10:08 PM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

Testify, sister. What was that Herman Hesse novel where the intellectual hero eventually became a simple boatman? Have you read Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums?
In it he recounts a summer spent alone in a firewatch tower high in the mountains, observing, meditating and writing ... for a small stipend. It's a truly evocative novel.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Wyndham said...

I'm with you, Dave. Insincerity is absolutely the worst personality characteristic going. I would rather people be deeply-unpleasant to me than pretend to be my friend. My own worst characteristic is that I see insincerity everywhere.

8:41 PM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

Yes, there's a lot of it about. I get the impression that people are much readier these days to use others without a qualm.

8:55 PM  
Blogger First Nations said...

...and then expect you to have known that all along. 'oh darling, thats the way the game's played'.
wyndham, you are not far wrong.

3:55 PM  
Blogger G said...

Oh to be on a ladder right now instead of wanting to bite the head off an inept assistant who pronounces Switzerland - "Switcherland". I grit, I grimace and before you know, the day is over.

Not exactly cutting a swath for my children to follow upon. I hold out hope to one day be paid for something immensely satisfying - no, not the oldest profession!

Came here by way of First Nations.

6:09 PM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

Welcome aboard, G. It's very hard to find a job that you love and get paid well for. That's why I'm working on a movie script ... my escape route.

9:25 PM  

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